Thirteen Lives – Film Review

The rescue of 12 young boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Taiwan was one of the biggest headlines of 2018. If you haven’t heard of this story, I would be surprised.

The near impossible rescue, which spanned 18 days, captured the spotlight around the world, even drawing the attention of some of the biggest names in the world, like Elon Musk. Thirteen Lives tells the story of the incredible rescue, from the boys entering the cave, to the global team that came together to extract them all alive and become worldwide heroes.


Thirteen Lives isn’t the first film adaptation of this story, but it is probably the biggest budget film with some big names on board. Ron Howard helms the film as the director, while working closely with some of the lead divers involved with the rescue and giving the film an authentic feeling. I think this was a good call as it kept the film grounded and didn’t over dramatize aspects of the rescue.


Hollywood heavy hitters Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell lead the film as volunteer cave rescue divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, both British divers that made the first contact with the boys in the cave and assisted with their extraction once a truly insane plan was put together. Both Mortensen and Farrell did an outstanding job in the roles, playing down to earth characters that ask for no special treatment. They spent a lot of time with the real-life versions of their characters, and this comes through on-screen with their accents and some of their mannerisms.


I also need to mention Joel Edgerton and his fantastic performance as Australian diver and anaesthetist Harry Harris, who made the wild rescue plan viable with his medical skills. Edgerton is one of my favourite Australian actors, so I was excited to see him on the big screen again. It has been a while, and he still has his great onscreen charm and charisma, really embodying the role of Harry.


Ron Howard is known for being quite cinematic with his works, so it must have been challenging to film something like this, set in a cramped, flooded cave with a majority of the story told underwater. But he executed this extremely well, giving the film a really intimate feel, while keeping some intensity. Surprisingly, the cast did a lot of their own stunts, including the diving through sets of the cave. Obviously, it’s nothing like the real thing, but it’s still a pretty incredible feat!

Howard and his cast members have delivered a true and honest telling of this incredible story. They’ve paid respect to those involved, thankfully not going over the top and over dramatizing the events that took place. Thirteen Lives is a little bit on the long side, clocking in at just under 2.5 hours, but it makes sense. It’s a big story to tell and condensing 18 days into a few hours is difficult to achieve without leaving too much detail out. 

Even though I knew this story well after watching feature documentary The Rescue last year, Thirteen Lives still captivated me. I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath along the way and jumping with joy once the last boy left the cave. The team behind this feature have crafted an emotional rollercoaster journey of a film, while paying respect to the source material. I highly recommend seeing this film. This rescue, and knowing it is based on truth, it is truly unbelievable, and the story will stick with you for a long time!

Thirteen Lives is now streaming exclusively to Amazon Prime.

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